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Letters from Proxima Thule

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Surfing the Pseudoiterative: Where I’ve Been and What I’ve Been Thinking About

I’ve been off the grid. There are a lot of reasons for that: work and deadlines, depression, travel, workshops, my increasingly complicated relationship with the Internet. I’m having some kind of weird tech/art identity crisis right now that all the travel and deadlines are deepening and widening. I see little holes of light and Figuring Things Out.

I thought that the best way to explain why I’ve been so behind the veil lately would be to quote a passage from 2312, which is Kim Stanley Robinson’s phenomenal (not perfect, but daring and strange, which is sometimes better) new book. It is a passage that seemed So Important to me, a message to my poor scattered brain and a thing to hold on to as I tightrope it out of a dark place. All bolding is mine, FOR EMPHASIS YO.

Habits begin to form at the very first repetition. After that there is a tropism toward repetition, for the patterns involved are defenses, bulwarks against time and despair.

Wahram was very aware of this, having lived the process many times; so he paid attention to what he did when he traveled, on the lookout for those first repetitions that would create the pattern of that particular moment in his life. So often the first time one did things they were contingent, accidental, and not necessarily good things on which to base a set of habits. There was some searching to be done, in other words, some testing of different possibilities. that was the interregnum, in fact, the naked moment before the next exfoliation of habits, the time when on wandered doing things randomly. The time without skin, the raw data, the being-in-the-world.

They came a bit too often for his taste. Most of the terraria offering passenger transport around the solar system were extremely fast, but even so, trips often took weeks. This was simply too much time to be banging around aimlessly; doing that one could easily slide into a funk or some other kind of mental hibernation. In the settlements around Saturn this sort of thing had sometimes been developed into entire sciences and art forms. But any such hebephrenia was dangerous for Wahram, as he had found out long before by painful experience. Too often in his past, meaninglessness had gnawed at the edges of things. He needed order, and a project; he needed habits. In the nakedness of the moments of exfoliation, the intensity of experience had in it a touch of terror–terror that no new meaning would blossom to replace the old ones now lost.

Of course there was no such things as a true repetition of anything; ever since the pre-Socratics that had been clear, Herclitus and his un-twice-steppable river and so on. So habits were not truly iterative but pseudoiterative. The pattern of the day might be the same, in other words, but the individual events fulfilling the pattern were always a little bit different. Thus there was both pattern and surprise, and this was Wahram’s desired state: to live in a pseudoiterative. But then also to live in a good pseudoiterative, an interesting one, the pattern constructed as a little work of art. No matter the brevity of the trip, the dullness of the terrarium or the people in it, it was important to invent a pattern and a project and pursue it with all his will and imagination. It came to this: shipboard life was still life. All days had to be seized.

Kim Stanley Robinson

I wish I could surround that last line with neon glowing arrows and underline it a thousand times. It is something I have never managed to believe for long as a working adult and something I desperately needed to hear.

Mirrored from cmv.com. Also appearing on @LJ and @DW. Read anywhere, comment anywhere.

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This last week has been balls. I really needed to read this.

Thank you.

Thanks from me, too--much needed at the moment.

I loved Wahram's character. He was the epitome of "shut up, slow down, and THINK about things for a minute." :)

EDIT: Well, that and doing the opposite as well--DOING things rather than overthinking all the time and remaining static!

Edited at 2012-06-27 06:20 pm (UTC)

Thank you for posting this.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.
-- Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Edited at 2012-06-27 09:44 pm (UTC)

Oh, yes. This exactly.

Congratulations on the Locus wins!

I saw Billy Bragg last night at the Birchmere, and he said something very similar.

It sounded a lot like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkrCFKVrI4Y

thank you for that excerpt, and best wishes to you and pseudoiterativity!

Hmm. That's very nice, and very apropos for me right now. *adds it to the to-read mess*

I've missed you here and your writing. I think about you often because I'm learning Russian.

Thank you for posting this passage. It resonates strongly with me right now. I hope you recover soon from your ailments and come back to us.

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